Small Human Communities

From Basic Christian Communities to Small Christian Communities to Small Human Communities...

Bishop Bosco Penha, Director of the "Small Christian Communities," Archdiocese of Bombay, in the official organ, the Examiner, 29th. January 1994.
The Archdiocese of Bombay became aware of Basic Christian Communities at the Bombay Priests' Synod of 1980. At the Synod, the priests realized that the parishes in Bombay were becoming larger, especially in the North, with the consequent increase of anonymity and impersonal relations among parishioners. The celebration of the Holy Eucharist on the one hand with its accent on community, and indifference of Catholics to each other on week days on the other, was a painful contradiction. It was felt that building basic christian communities in all our parishes would be an antidote to the present growing trend of individualism. The concluding statement of the Synod began with the following resolution:

"Goal of the Priestly Ministry:

We have come to see the goal of our priestly ministry as building christian community. This community has two closely interrelated and inseparable dimensions:

The vertical by which it is a community of faith, praise and worship of God; and

The horizontal, by which it is a community of love and fellowship where the values of truth, freedom and justice prevail.

This community is by its very nature, missionary - open to the larger community in which it is situated, and to which it proclaims the Good News of Jesus Christ in word and in deed.

We see the typical parish of today cannot, for various reasons, be the starting-point for community-building. We have, therefore, to work with smaller units within the parish. The choice of these smaller units will depend on the nature of the parish and its composition. It is towards the building up of such small christian communities with a view to building up the entire parish community, that the priest dedicates his life and exercises his ministry."
(Extract from the concluding statement of the Synod, nos. 2 & 3)

In June 1984, the first parish got into small communities on the basis of geographical proximity (neighbourhood groups). This was the parish of St. Thomas, Goregaon. Other parishes, in rapid succession, asked for the program - eleven in 1985, twentyfour in 1986. Hence in 1986, Simon Pimenta officially appointed a team, headed by Bishop Bosco Penha to oversee this work. This team is known as the 'Formation and Involvement of the Laity in the Mission of the Church' (FILMC) and consisted originally of six persons: two priests, one religious sister and three lay persons. Today the team has sixteen members and the Bassein area has built up its own team.

Over the past eight years the work has progressed and has entered almost all the parishes of Bombay. A survey made in 1991 showed that about a thousand communities had been structured all over the archdiocese. This means that territories had been demarcated and animators identified. Thus could start the work of bringing people together, so that they could get involved in each other's growth as human beings in every facet of their personality - physical, spiritual, intellectual, economic, cultural, zonal, civic, political, etc. Since most communities have an average of five animators and many have as many as fifteen, it means that several thousands of animators have committed to this task. These communities enjoy various degrees of vitality depending on the encouragement and support they receive from the clergy of the parish and the extent to which their animators are committed, creative and methodical. A few parishes are fully into communities.

The theological principles underlying these small communities are:

1. The ecclesiology of Vat. II as an ecclesiology of service, where sacraments cannot be merely celebrated (and then forgotten) but must bear fruit in love and service.

2. The Eucharist as both invitation / challenge and strength / love / hope to build community.

4. The role of the laity as a key to future church vitality. The priesthood of the laity has been forgotten for a long time, at least in its practical implications. As a result, the plethora of gifts and talents with which the laity are endowed are, by and large, a dormant force in the Church.

5. The ministerial priesthood seen as the means of developing the priesthood of the laity. Is it not true that a good leader is one who brings forth many new leaders?

6. The importance of women in the Church. Her potentialities are yet to be developed. Thousands of our community animators are women and do a commendable job.

To this we must also add the vitality and enthusiasm of youth, without whose support and perseverance the communities lack energy and dynamism. Children are a wonderful starting point for community-building as they have a natural urge to come together. The elderly are a repository of wisdom and love and a precious asset to communities. Even those who are sick and helpless can through their pain and suffering earn much needed grace for all members of small communities.

The basic christian communities are aware of the many dimensions of genuine pastoral care. If we are to offer this kind of a many-splendored shepherding to our people, it can only be achieved by the help of all. The adequate care of all can only be ensured by all. The effort, therefore, emphasizes team spirit. Clericalism will not lead to vitality in parishes. It is only when priests join hands with religious and all sections of the laity - men, women, youth, children - that there can be a tremendous outburst of power and fruitfulness in the Church. Not an easy skill to acquire, this team work, because it calls for humility and self-effacement. "They must increase and we must decrease." We have already formed a committee of clergy to help in the work of initiating and maintaining small christian communities. We are in the process of organizing similar committees among religious, adult lay persons and youth. All of us, together, can do much, that none of us can do individually.

There are many challenges ahead. Much ignorance about basic christian communities still persists all over the archdiocese. Many priests, religious and lay persons have reservations about the effort and offer criticism or silent resistance. That is all to the good. Criticism is necessary, and resistance when it is based on conviction and suffused with love is also a positive force. If God wants this work to prosper, it will; if He does not wish it ot live, it will die, and that can also bring new life to the Church. What is important in the church is not this or that effort, but the growth of love, service, of prayer / contemplation, that the church becomes ever more - through whatever instrumentality - the "light of the world" and "the sacrament of unity" (Vat. II, The Church, p. 1) We therefore do our best and leave the rest in God's hand.

Since the word "basic" is not much understood, it has now been changed to "small" - Small Christian Communities. The christian dimension still needs much development. Prayer and service must characterize our communities. Too many of them are fixated on socializing. Also in the wake of the Ayodhya incident and the sectarian conflicts following it, it is clear that Christians in India have the special task today of bringing peace and harmony into a country torn by religious strife. We, Catholics, must remind all concerned that the true role of religion is to bring the unconditional love of God into human affairs. More and more voices are heard asking that we move from small christian communities to small human communities. The Jeri-Meri parish has shown that this is possible. Such small human communities could act as models and catalysts of national integration. The journey winds on. We shall walk together, hand-in-hand...
Bishop Bosco Penha, Director of the "Small Christian Communities," Archdiocese of Bombay, in the official organ, the Examiner, 29th. January 1994.
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